“Poor user experiences inevitably come from poorly informed design teams.” – Jared M. Spool (User Interface Engineering, Founder)
Whether you’re bringing a new product to market or releasing a minor software update, understanding who your users are and the problems they face is critical to achieving your business goals. This can be done by conducting user research—the techniques, practices, and methodologies user experience (UX) teams use to deeply understand end users.
At Credera UX, user research is the first step in our design process, as shown in the double diamond framework introduced by the British Design Council:
The double diamond is a visual model depicting the divergent and convergent thinking involved in the design process.
User research starts with tackling a problem space, a certain topic or area of focus, and having a general idea of who the target user is. During this divergent phase, it’s essential to gather as much data as you can pertaining to your users—their needs, wants, behaviors, and attitudes.
Conducting this research upfront will save you from spending time and resources building something end users don’t want or need. How do you go about researching users? We’ve examined four user research methodologies you can conduct, with the benefits and challenges of each:
- Ethnographic studies
- User interviews
- Internal interviews
Ethnographic studies involve observing participants in their real-life environment in order to understand the day-to-day or specific routines of your end user. These qualitative studies are lengthy and typically conducted when the problem has yet to be defined.
- It paints a holistic picture. Observations of users in their normal environment bridges the gap between digital touchpoints and physical processes. Capturing these instances can often uncover critical problems that were not discovered initially. When our UX team tackled interview scheduling for a client in staffing services, we conducted various ethnographic studies to understand the disjointed workstreams and duplicative workarounds supervisors would use. These observations enabled us to build an effective tool for managing interviews and viewing applicant availability, ultimately freeing up time for other revenue-generating activities.
- It helps you develop empathy. By immersing yourself with your users’ cultural and situational experiences, you are able to understand the experiences and emotions from their lens.
- It’s time-consuming. Undergoing these situational experiences may require extensive lengths of time, especially when multiple target groups are involved. Try not to underestimate the time commitment and logistics involved when observing and recording these studies.
- It depends on the openness and honesty of the participants. As discussed by Erika Hall in her book, Just Enough Research, users may behave differently as they are knowingly watched, a behavior referred to as the Hawthorne effect. To mitigate this, you should explain how there are no expectations to act a certain way and ensure enough of these studies are conducted to avoid drawing conclusions based on these biases.
Takeaway: Use ethnographic studies if you are in your initial stages of research, can commit to an extended amount of time for observations, and want an empathetic, holistic view of your user in their natural environment.
User interviews, not to be confused with usability interviews, consist of asking participants generative questions around their motivations, behaviors, pain points, and day-to-day tasks. Like ethnographic studies, user interviews are often conducted during the initial exploration of an idea and will help you gain a better perspective of the user.
- It reveals the why and how behind user behavior. Gathering qualitative data around these actions will help you understand why things happen a certain way. When we engaged with a medical device manufacturer to increase the adoption rate of their mobile app, we conducted various user interviews to discover critical insights around their painpoints and processes. These conversations invalidated assumptions around end user challenges and shifted our focus to addressing the underlying barriers to adoption.
- It’s flexible. User interviews can be done in person or remotely and can take however much time you need. They are meant to be an everyday conversation and are best done with a little less structure.
- What users say is often different from what they do. When only utilizing user interviews, you run the risk of relying on inaccurate information that steers you in the wrong direction. You can mitigate these biases by conducting ethnographic studies and interviewing multiple users using unbiased, non-leading questions.
- It may be hard to extract situational information. Users can not always recall the details of instances that you may be looking for.
Takeaway: User interviews are great when you need to get to know your users but may not have extensive amounts of time.
Internal interviews consist of asking stakeholders, employees, or subject matter experts the five w’s and how concerning current users, processes, business strategy, and goals. Conducting internal interviews can lend a wealth of user and organizational knowledge that you may not have initially been exposed to.
- It helps you define success. As stakeholders communicate their goals and objectives, you will better determine what direction to take with your research. Additionally, these interviews are a great opportunity to understand what the business needs are and if these business needs conflict or align with user needs.
- Internal interviews provide a baseline for user data. Stakeholders can give the lay of the land around user behavior. This high-level understanding of how a user interacts with a product or service is a great foundation for additional research methods.
- It provides a limited perspective. Stakeholders may only interact with a few user groups and struggle to provide you with the big picture. Therefore, ensure you conduct these interviews in conjunction with other research methodologies that involve interacting with real users.
- It can introduce a stakeholder-driven agenda. Stakeholders often introduce their bias when explaining user behavior or discussing business needs. It’s important to validate what you are hearing by gathering data directly from your users.
Takeaway: Conduct stakeholder interviews when you have little understanding of business goals and processes and need a high-level perception of users.
Surveys are a highly quantitative and scalable tool for gaining user insights. They can include closed or open-ended questions and are an effective way of gathering feedback from a large group of users to uncover key themes. Given the nature of surveys, this method is effective for a product that will have a large and diverse user base.
- It’s easy to implement. With several free tools and applications such as Google Forms and SurveyMonkey, creating and broadcasting surveys requires very little investment to create.
- It gives you a lot of data quickly. Surveys are an efficient method to gather large amounts of data, spanning multiple topics, from a large number of users with little time or monetary investment.
- It requires context upfront. In order for surveys with closed questions to be effective, you need to have assumptions in place that you want to validate. Doing so allows you to provide the most relevant response choices that users can choose from.
- It focuses less on the “how” behind user behavior. With closed questions being highly quantitative, you often lose the ability to process users’ qualitative responses. Additionally, a large amount of survey results can give you a false sense of security in what seems to be compelling statistics.
Takeaway: Conduct user surveys to gather large amounts of quantitative data, as they are quick and easy to implement.
Making Use of User Research
User research starts with gathering significant amounts of qualitative and quantitative data around users in a problem space, ideally leveraging various user research methodologies. When performed effectively, user research generates actionable insights that help identify what problem is worth solving. Only by leveraging these findings can you create a seamless user experience that also satisfies your business objectives.
Still uncertain what research methods to conduct or what to do afterward? We’re happy to help! Get in touch with us here at Credera to learn more.